It’s official: According to The Weather Channel, Portland’s winter has been “the most miserable” in the nation. The nearly complete shutdown of our city has been tough for many people. For small business owners, the lack of accessibility has led to some very lonely days.
Roads covered in ice and snow (and now slush) have led to a lack of stock on the shelves and — most importantly — a lack of customers coming through the doors.
Bikes shops are run on passion not profits and these storms added insult to injury because December and January are already the toughest months to survive.
Here’s what several local bike shop owners had to say when asked about how the weather has impacted their business:
Kelly Aicher, GM and Co-Owner of The Bike Gallery (six locations throughout the region)
Each store has been affected differently.
“Each store has been affected differently. The stores that have greater access difficulty due to side streets or parking lot issues have been affected more. Employee safety has been our number one consideration when making the decision to stay open or to close each store. Some employees may live across town from the store they work at, and it has been a challenge for some to make it in severe weather. Whenever possible, we tried our best to be open, albeit with an abbreviated staff. This weather is especially tough on employees, since hours are cut back when we are closed. I think we were closed a total of 3 days in the past several weeks due to the weather. It has certainly not helped business.
The weather has also made our move to our new Westmoreland location difficult, as certain services/ contractors are delayed, and getting things moved has been difficult. We still plan on being open and functional by the 22nd.”
Tim Wesolowski, Assistant Manager of 21st Avenue Bicycles (916 NW 21st Avenue)
Sales are always slow this time of year, but weather like this can (and has) really cut our already low volume.
“We’ve definitely felt the weather’s effects over the last week. The shop was closed Wednesday due to the snow accumulation, and closed 3-4 hours early Thursday and Friday because of a lack of customers (and we certainly don’t blame people for staying indoors!). We stayed open all day Saturday, and people were definitely out and about more than I expected – I think folks were tired of being cooped up at home and eager to get out and least do some window shopping/tire kicking.
Most of us live here in NW, but one employee who lives in NE faced a couple challenges: longer, more dangerous bike commutes due to icy conditions, and a very delayed bus connection made her late once. Sales are always slow this time of year, but weather like this can (and has) really cut our already low volume.
We’ve had great response to our social media posts about weather and closures. We used our Instagram and Facebook to let everyone know if and when we were open. Our customers have been very understanding about delays in special orders (we didn’t receive our regular Wednesday delivery until Friday) or repairs.”
John Bennett, owner of Rivelo (401 SE Caruthers St)
Making rent this month is going to be a stretch.
“Yes, it’s been a pretty dreadful week. We’re open Thursday through Monday, so we missed the first Snow Day last Wednesday. Our customer count for the week: Thursday: O. Friday: 2. Saturday: 4. Sunday: 0. Monday: 1. These were some of our most loyal customers who made a point of coming in to drop a little dough. Greatly appreciated.
This most recent storm, coming on the heels of the other snow and ice starting mid-December, is making for a tough go, financially. We’re fortunate that we don’t have to sweat payroll or worry how shortened hours will affect staff, since we don’t have employees, but even making rent this month is going to be a stretch.”
Erik Tonkin, owner of Sellwood Cycle Repair (7953 SE 13th Ave)
I’m fortunate that so many of my co-workers live close by, so getting to work has been very doable for us.
“It’s funny, but today (Tuesday, 1/17) has been steady — if not truly busy. Overall, last week was slow — I’d expected Friday and Saturday to be relatively busy because we were closed Wednesday and Thursday, but it was rather quiet.
I keep all staff year-round, so we’ve had the extra time and people power to make real progress in our shop inventory re-organization. This will be a record January for us — in retail futility, that is!
The hardest thing for me has been juggling work demands with school closures. I’ve been less than perfect…
The real winter, and the snow and ice riding, have been a fun change of pace. Beautiful weather and landscape, really. It feels special. And the weather conditions have proven how truly effective walking is for getting around! The riding has been tough, but rewarding too! And I’m reminded how useful it is to live close to where you work, if possible. I’m fortunate that so many of my co-workers live close by, so getting to work has been very doable for us. I know that’s just not the case for so many. I was able to give the crew at least two fully paid snow days, which was fun.”
Lou Doctor, owner of Western Bikeworks (1015 NW 17th Ave)
We’ve had a record year for studded snow tires…and base layers!
“We’ve closed the stores for several days this winter (so far!) and had a few delayed openings and early closings. We’ve been trying to keep employee safety first when making those decisions but I’m sure some of our neighborhood customers have been inconvenienced by it. Fortunately, it’s a very slow time of year so while it may have an adverse affect on the month of January, we expect it won’t have much impact on the full year. On the plus side, we’ve had a record year for studded snow tires, arm & leg warmers, and base layers!”
Joe Doebele, owner of Joe Bike (2039 SE Cesar Chavez Blvd)
I think we’re going to be slammed when this melts.
“We stayed open all but 1 day, and bigger-ticket business (some of our best bikes, custom builds, etc.) has been surprisingly strong through it all. Part of this is because we have customers all over the country, but much of it has been local too. We actually had to add back staff starting yesterday. On one of the worst weather days, we posted a flash snow-day sale–20% off on any bike–on Twitter and Instagram and, no exaggeration, within 10 minutes someone came in and ordered a Soma Wolverine custom build. But service and accessory sales are way way down, as you’d expect.
All in all, it’s been kind of amazing. I think we’re going to be slammed when this melts.”
Barb Grover, co-owner of Splendid Cycles (407 SE Ivon St)
I hope you’ll encourage readers to think about the businesses they appreciate and reach out by patronizing that business with whatever purchasing power they have.
“There’s no doubt that the weather has slowed business and made it challenging for staff to get to work.
We only closed a couple of days as we were able to get in as were most of our staff. One employee lives in North Portland and with about 10 miles each way he has not been able to get to work as much as he would have liked. I know missing work creates financial challenges for him and that’s a worry.
Since test rides are nearly impossible on icy streets we’ve had few local customers. So, holiday sales were down as well as January to date. We’re fortunate that we have some customers seeking our products from regions not impacted by winter weather. With those sales we’ve been able to keep our full-time staff working.
But the weather combined with shifts in buying habits, that we’ve noticed since the election, means that our sales were pretty flat the last few months. We aren’t sure how consumers will continue to respond to the new president, so we continue to be conservative in our planning for the upcoming season. And this weather is definitely compounding that situation.
In observing all of the above, I’ve been worried about many of Portland’s small businesses, not just bike shops. For example, I think of my favorite juice/coffee shop in Hollywood. Anyway, I hope you’ll encourage readers to think about the businesses they appreciate and reach out by patronizing that business with whatever purchasing power they have.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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again, I blame this on limited accessibility due to businesses not shoveling their walks (the ice in front of my LBS was bad), and drivers not prepared to travel (no chains)…
if every driver had chains on they would have pulverized the snow pack away and we’d have clear roads…
Some of those who put chains on might consider how they behave on dry pavement. Heard a driver tearing down MLK this morning as if their car were not encumbered with chains.
an irresponsible driver?! say it isn’t so!
Fortunately driving too fast for your chains brings its own natural consequences.
I am sure business would have been booming at these shops if the sidewalks had been cleared.
When the weather is like this, we tend to change the priority of our needs. While I might have wanted a new part, waiting 5 days isn’t going to impact me.
If someone needed something desperately from a shop, then they could have planned better in advance (just like drivers putting chains on). Individual responsibility.
Chains with this storm’s deep snow created an interesting effect on our state route arterials downtown: they created ice cobbles which were like walking / riding on ice stones…much more difficult until the melt.
Businesses are losing money, but I especially feel for the hourly workers not getting paid. Kids think they’re getting a free ride, but their summer vacation as well as their parents’ is slipping away as many scramble to arrange for childcare.
This unusual winter weather is the proverbial baby alligator. This is why you don’t keep them at home as pets.
Sidewalks are the least of the problems. It’s that even still, nothing works. The morning commute wasn’t on slush, it was on deep rutted and bumpy ice covered with water. I’m not sure if I’ve ever fallen on ice before despite having to ride on some every year, but I did today.
Downtown is clean and bikeable, though NoPo is solid ice. The transit system was useless as it has been for the past week — not a single bus or MAX passed me on my entire route despite this being one of the slowest bike commutes I’ve ever logged. Ironically, the best part of my commute was the climb up Marquam Hill which was fine even if parts of the steepest sections contained enough gravel to completely mask the road surface.
I know there are a number of clean roads out there, but there are huge swaths of town that are doing very poorly right now. No normal person is going to think they have a choice other than car in what I had to work with this morning.
I do believe that had drivers been chained up as they should (maybe even aided by a better snow removal strategy), the ride in would have been a piece of cake.
and yet sidewalks are the primary concern because people (e.g. pedestrians) come first…
my bus commute was as easy as usual, basically the same as it’s been for weeks… 2 buses every day with minimal delays…
but I did notice the channels of water between the ice/snow ruts… they’re tricky to walk over…
Today was the first day I’ve been to work in a week and I elected to take the bus. Much better than it’s been, but still took me an hour to get from SE 50th to downtown.
Sidewalks should be top priority after seeing news stories about less abled people unable to even make it to the store down the street.
If sidewalks had been cleared (much easier than clearing streets) people could have been easily walking throughout this entire mess be it all the way to their destination or to main roads that hopefully would be cleared and have transit. People cycling could use sidewalks when needed to get around problem areas on the road.
Nearly everyone can walk, clear sidewalks change the entire picture. If sidewalks were clear people wouldn’t feel like their only option was a car.
I have plenty of winter/icy biking experience, studded tires, and absolutely no inclination to ride in these conditions. More power to you for it.
The city may need a better snow removal strategy, but the people don’t want it. The requisite parking restrictions and towing of violators would draw a pitchfork mob to City Hall just as fast as they can get there (it might take a few days).
If there’s ever going to be a constituency for a snow removal plan this is the time. If every worker in Portland missed one day of work that’s about a $20 million impact, either in lost pay or lost productivity or both. (Do your own arithmetic, what’s your number?) That doesn’t buy that much hardware, but it sure would cover some overtime and de-icer (please don’t salt my steel bikes, or the salmon, thanks.)
I’d like to see key streets, like transit routes, bridge approaches, and maybe even bike lanes?? signed as snow routes so people would know to move their cars or be towed.
I’d like to see an app for people to sign up to clear nearby bike route choke points, curb cuts near bridges, etc. It’s gonna take the city years to come around to dealing with snow on bike routes. We’re pretty far down the list.
In that vein, has anyone ridden the Vancouver bike lane from Lombard in? Wondering ifs clear enough for a ride in tomorrow, or if I’ll be riding in the edge of the travel lane…
I took Vancouver down from Rosa Parks to Moda Center today in the morning, and it was fine. I mainly had to ride on the road but traffic was slow. The road itself was pretty much ice free at that point already.
However, I then encountered a total mess at the water front. This area, which is one of the best pieces of bike infrastructure in the city, is absolutely unaccessible to bicylists at this point. Tilikum crossing was also not accessible by bike. I walked some of that way and then took a Water Ave, which was mainly ice free and had low traffic.
I am deeply frustrated by the lack of attention to bike infrastructure by PBOT during this snow storm. I understand that it makes sense to clear the big roads but this is not how we achieve any meaningful increase in bike riding in the city. It only works if using a bike during such difficult weather is still possible, and preferably so, relatively easy.
Many areas have no sidewalks at all. I’m sure keeping sidewalks clear would make a significant difference in areas where there are apartments close to stores, but a lot of the sidewalks I go near rarely have people even when things are good. It’s difficult to imagine people walking miles in cold rain when they don’t at any other time.
Even presuming people are moving along streets with sidewalks that have been cleared to clean pavement, there is still the issue that every block is separated by a thick layer of ice that’s so slippery that even clearing the bump in the road for drainage is unachievable for most wheelchairs and represents a hazard to everyone.
I am so much hoping to encounter more of this slush I keep hearing about on my ride home. Riding in slush is no big deal. But this ice is truly bad. I would not ride in it if I felt I had any choice.
I haven’t found much slush either… just standing water on top of ice.
And you do bring up a good point about not being able to cross streets. Maybe sidewalk clearing responsibility should extend through the crosswalk for those on a corner? I think if it was cleared to full width even some car traffic crossing it wouldn’t completely fill it back up…
More from Barb about how the presidunce elect effects the bike business?
I was also confused by her comments. I plan on riding my cargo bike just as much in the coming years, and I’m not afraid to upgrade, either. Maybe someone else can provide insight…
We are almost certainly headed for another recession – possibly even worse than the 2008 recession – if the incoming administration successfully deregulates everything they say they want to.
Can I use your crystal ball? I want to stay ahead of fashion trends first and foremost.
Yes, it’s called a history book.
I can only comment anecdotally but it’s been my observation that presidential elections always have an impact on bike buying habits (this is based on 6 previous Presidential election cycles in bike retail). Post primary and early term it isn’t uncommon to see a decrease in major purchases. The current P.E is no exception and my gut tells me that consumers are being especially cautious right now. In other words I think there’s even more uncertainty than past elections.
That makes sense. I got the feeling that the whole country was holding its breath before the election. Now, even not wanting to see Hilary Clinton as president, but having been resigned to it, there is even more uncertainty as the “Anyone but her” we got is a monster.
Our most “liked” Instagram post this week:
Take your bike to your neighborhood shop for a tune-up, maybe buy some accessories or new part while you’re there.
You shouldn’t ride this week anyway because the roads are just going to be nasty slush.
I’ve found roads to be just wet with gravel and some remaining ice in the bike lanes. Don’t discourage people from riding their bike just cause it might get dirty… maybe not their roadie sure, but a bike should be a tool that gets used IMO.
The more you ride the more good that tune up will do 🙂
You’re the champ. Get down with your bad self. As long as the bike lanes are narrowed by icy slush and cars are still fishtailing regularly, I’ll keep my bicycles indoors. Thank you very much.
My shop is near my home, which means I was able to stay open each day. Keepiing hot coffee and an open door was great for customers in North Portland that needed quick fixes, snow prep or to get thier trainer bikes ready. Other than UPS/FedEx not making it in a few of those days, it’s been business as usual, but more repairs than normal.
during the heavy snow days I was out walking around the neighborhood and every place that was open was packed with people… so many people didn’t go to work that they were all out there walking the neighborhood spending money…
I haven’t been riding at all last week – mostly getting around by foot. Foster Burger got most of my monetary attention during the past week, but rest assured I have plenty of bicycle-related expenditures planned for the near future!
I miss Foster Burger… haven’t been in about a year when I found out that their buns aren’t vegan even though they offer a vegan patty…
now there’s a vegan burger place opening up closer to me where Gemini Lounge used to be…
Yeah, it’s a bummer they don’t have a vegan bun. I love their veggie burger otherwise, though! Super excited about the new veggie purger place on Foster, though! That strip around Foster and Holgate is turning out to be a nice little neighborhood center.
It has been very tough for all small retail businesses. The ice is melting and by the end of the week things will be mostly back to normal, we’ll all be back on our bikes (the ones without fat tires), and many will be eager to get outside after being housebound. Please consider stopping by your local bike shop for something you might need or want. I’ll be at Velocult – hmm, is beer a need or a want? No matter, I’ll be having a couple.
They get some hard to find stuff there!
It was a freakin’ winter storm, why do people keep believing that life should continue to go on as normal under extraordinary circumstances?
because it was only a winter storm and wasn’t extraordinary…
the only thing extraordinary about it was the city’s announced lack of enforcement that allowed its citizens to choke it to death…
It was most definitely an extraordinary winter storm. This area doesn’t usually get snow like this. Especially all in one night. And it was below freezing for a week, the snow wasn’t going anywhere. I can’t remember when snow stuck around for a week. Not to mention it was about a foot deep!
December 2008. This past week was pretty similar, except 2008 was more snow and over a 2 week period.
This was the coldest January since 1979. The 2008 storm was gone after a few days. Not even comparable.
I would think that the 2nd biggest winter storm in 50 years is extraordinary.
Largest snowfall in nearly 40 years is exceptional for Portland. Might not be for other areas better equipped to handle it.
Extraordinary circumstances lasts for 2 days, maybe 3 tops, after that (and we didn’t have any more snow after Wed morning, just mostly sunny days) it’s just city negligence. We’re not talking about a week long blizzard here.
It’s not that extraordinary. And at some point we need to quit making excuses.
If you look at the Trimet alert page, you’ll see a bunch of lines aren’t running at all. And they haven’t been for some time. How long should people be expected to not require medical care, to resupply on food, or do anything else?
I travel at rush hour I saw one cyclist on Broadway in the AM, one in the PM on Naito, and that was it. Interstate is one of the best riding roads in NoPo now and I didn’t see anyone else. I don’t blame everyone who stayed in or drove.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The easiest part of my ride was Marquam Hill. Both the climb and descent were fine. So it is possible. A few other streets were decent. Naito was awesome in the PM as was top deck of the Steel Bridge in the traffic lane. But most of the ride was genuinely difficult and genuinely dangerous (from a broken bones rather than death point of view)
How we handle this stuff bodes poorly for what may happen if we ever deal with something that’s truly extreme.
So you feel the city should stock up on snow plows and such that are only needed about once every 5 to 10 years, as opposed to lowering people’s expectations such that under conditions like we just experienced you might actually have to wait for the weather to clear rather than expecting the city to bring everything back to normal instantaneously? Well, good luck with that…
No. they have enough snowplows (55 city plows) to make a major impact on arterials. This more came down to decisions to not actually plow the roads and instead to skim the roads (to hopefully prevent road damage), which actually sped up the icing of the roads (compacting the snow), making them so bad for so long. It’s not necessarily about more equipment (though plenty of us would like to see limited use of salt introduced), it’s about having a sufficient plan before and making the correct decisions about snow removal.
Part of the problem is that Portland has an extreme aversion to any kind of incredibly useful chemical that has been successfully used elsewhere for many decades — fluoride and salt both fit into this category.
I’ll bet it wouldn’t be that hard to get people to seriously demand that something be done about the toxic levels dihydrogen monoxide in our water supply.
Dihydrogen monoxide is dangerous! It’s the primary ingredient in acid rain and the leading cause of drowning!
Don’t even get me started. Would you believe that toxic levels of this stuff are piped into schools? Think of the children!
I don’t get the skimming practice — it’s worse than doing nothing. Skimming compacts the ice and minimizes surface area so warm water and air has minimal effect. Meanwhile the road looks smooth so drivers already experiencing minimized grip are tempted to go too fast.
If they don’t want to damage the roads and/or pull up the reflectors, they should do nothing. Rough roads encourage slow driving, maximizes surface area exposed to speed melting while yielding more traction opportunities, and lowers PBOT costs. If they want to do something, they should throw more rock or ash down, preferably something bigger and sharper than what they currently use.
Pretty extraordinary, these days, for here. Though, “Portland’s winter has been ‘the most miserable’ in the nation…” ?? Hmmm. Hyperbolic, but so in keeping w/ our general feeling of extra specialness. And peeve. 🙂
No one said anything about a massive infrastructure for something that rarely happens. How about the ability to run what should be core services in ordinary circumstances?
Take that winter “storm” in mid December that dumped less than an inch of snow in mid December. We had days of warnings, and it shut down the town for two days. Public transit totally hosed. An inch of snow isn’t so rare, and neither are ice storms.
For this last storm which at least was real, many areas had no transit running for a week. What are the staff at hospitals, animal shelters, or at any place that provides a service others really depend on supposed to do? Not show up?
The costs of being shut down are enormous and they really hurt people, especially those in marginal situations.
If I had a bike shop near my house in Outer East Portland, I would have certainly taken my ride in for a much needed tune-up.
With all the biking infrastructure planned to be built in East Portland very soon you’d think it would be a great opportunity for someone to open a bike shop to service future cyclists and their rides. Just sayin’…..
Unless you’re venture capitalist backed, creating a business based on *future* demand will almost certainly fail. If and when that fabled infrastructure comes to East Portland the time will be right to launch an LBS.
It would be even better if the City of Portland created a bicycle co-op on the East side similar to the WashCoBTC in downtown Hillsboro that serves to get the lower-income population on wheels.
Many bike shops I wander into cater to the high end, weekend-warrior type but the BTC has a very different feel. It doesn’t have free coffee, beer, and professional bike fitting but they do have reasonably priced, used bicycles fit for getting around town.
“With all the biking infrastructure planned to be built in East Portland” I really want this too, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I just worry it will get delayed last minute to add more paint to diverters to SE Portland.
Unrelated to sales, the snow & ice stalled our plans to collect socks, underwear, warm jackets, gloves/mittens and clothes for the local homeless shelter. (They don’t need to be new, just clean.)
We’ll be back at it tomorrow, so if you spent some of your time trapped inside cleaning out your closets, feel free to drop your unneeded items by our place. We’ll pool the donations and deliver them.
Still lots of cold days ahead.
Our recent post about this:
But I’m sure the ski shops are doing great right now. Oh, and the tire shops…
I would hope the saving grace might be, once the really bad weather subsides, ppl will go out and spend money at their local bike store in the things snow, sleet, ice and rain made them realize they wish they had!!
A helmet cover!!
A snowbike!! (That last one might be just wishful thinking).
But seriously, there is no time like shitty weather to evaluate your gear, and invest or upgrade as required, stat!!
I liked Erik (Tonkin’s) take on the whole thing. 🙂
I’m with rachel b, Erik has the winning attitude, who knew;D
Thanks for this article. It makes me feel not so alone in this pursuit of spring.
(more rain! more cold! more storms! i’m ok with spring if it means more of those things)
the Everlasting Summer-hater
Cold rain in the valley is snow in the mountains which means happy fish, hydro power, and lots of other good things. If I had my druthers, it would be 42F and rainy every day 🙂